We are still in the early stages of a new era in sport: the era of big data. Most sports fans love statistics.  Goals, points, runs, saves. They are the tools of the trade. But it’s only recently that we started paying attention to advance data, or analytics, which was strange and controversial just 15 years ago. By Brett Parker, MD of SAP Africa.
Passionate fans have evolved in this short time and completely embraced this new era. They’re taking that data themselves and creating new and innovative metrics to measure player performance and value. They’ve opened up a whole new world for this and, rather than fighting it, cutting edge teams have hired these fans to run their analytical departments and find new ways to create a competitive edge.
The evolution has also come to the teams and players themselves. Many scouts, coaches, and sportswriters used to trust just what they saw with their eyes. They didn’t have any use for computers or data. That was until the teams that used data gained a competitive advantage and started to win. This changed the game forever. It changed scouting, training, fitness, injury prevention and contract negotiations.
Let me tell you a story about a major sporting event that happened in Europe. Fans traveled hundreds of kilometres to be there. There were no hotel rooms available, so they pitched tents and slept outside. Before the event, they prepared a feast, drank and were filled with excitement.
Then, the moment they were waiting for arrived. They stood all day in the hot sun, cheering on the athletes in contests of speed, power and endurance. The winners became hometown heroes and had statues built in their name.
The event I’m describing took place 2 000 years ago – the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece, but I could just as easily be describing the World Cup or Wimbledon today.
Naturally, there are some important differences between then and now, but the truth is that not so much has changed over the centuries. Our passion for sport has always been part of our human DNA. Although today’s racecars may go faster than chariots, the Ancient Greeks would fit in perfectly at a Formula One track.
What has changed, however, is how we experience sport. Over the last century, advances in technology have revolutionised sport. In the 1920s, radio stations started airing boxing matches, bringing the sounds of live competition to millions of people for the first time. By the 1940s, television networks were broadcasting games, and fans could actually see their favourite athletes run, jump and hit from the comfort of their homes. As sports media grew, so did our ability to engage with the competition we crave.
Instead of being a hobby to enjoy at special times, sport became an obsession that we had to feed all the time. With the internet and mobile devices, we can follow every game, anywhere, at any time. As a result of this technological transformation, the lines between sport, entertainment and media have blurred, which has enabled sport to quickly grow into a $100 billion global industry.
Today, our ability to process incredible amounts of raw data is transforming professional sport at every level – from the fans at home, to the owner’s box, and on the playing field. That transformation is getting a big push from SAP.
Our SAP Sports One solution launched in the summer is the first sports-specific cloud solution that includes team management, player training and fitness, scouting, and performance insights on a single, unified platform. We are creating prototypes that will help teams and players predict and prevent injury with our SAP Injury Risk Monitor, pilot version. And our SAP Tennis Analytics for coaches, available exclusively to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), is live and giving players and coaches a competitive edge right when they need it most during a match  – all powered by SAP HANA.
With the power of SAP HANA, we can find patterns in data in the blink of an eye. Consider that a standard hour and a half tennis match between two players creates an average of 60 000 to 70 000 records. In one hour of soccer training, 77,7-million data points are captured and processed. These are insights that no coach, player or club with all of their experience, could possibly see.
No matter what team or player you root for, we know the winning formula in sports is technology that turns big data into smart data, making sports more competitive for players, fun for fans and successful for clubs.
Players, coaches and teams are stepping up their data A-game as well. After all, nobody wants to let down a sports fan.